Elementary students design high technology for children

Posted January 16, 2011 11:30 a.m. EST

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how Maryland elementary school students are designing high technology for Fortune 500 companies.

The students, aged seven to 11, help design new technology for children at the University of Maryland's Human Computer Interaction Lab.

"The kids are our design partners. We work with them in an equal partnership," research assistant Mona Leigh Guha said.

The younger designers already know what children like in technology, she said.

"The children are experts at being children. They absolutely have as many good ideas the big people do," Guha said.

KidsTeam members give ideas for kid-friendly gadgets and websites for clients that include Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits. One project was to design children's games for the National Park Service's website.

The design teams meet twice a week. Researchers introduce the project to the students, then divide them into small groups. Each group brainstorms ideas for the project.

"The favorite technique of all of our children is what the kids call 'Bags of Stuff,' but the adults call low-tech prototyping," HCIL Director Allison Druin said.

The students use common classroom materials, like cardboard and pipe cleaner, to create an example of what they think the final product should be.

When each team finishes its prototypes, the students gather back into the larger group, shows off their prototype and presents their ideas.

The result is an exciting discussion that teaches children about science and how things are made, Druin said.

"The (discussion) leader will be writing down what we call big ideas," she said. "Those big ideas, again, is almost a frequency analysis of the kinds of ideas that are coming out of an existing session. And it's very exciting."